How Secure Are Local Elections–Even When Paper Ballots Are Used?


Buried within this “Democracy Now!” story of the leaked NSA document is the real and very scary problem with elections in this country. It’s very easy to hack elections at the local level. In this Democracy Now! segment, computer security expert Jake Williams tells us why.

“[A]s the vote totals come in, they’re totaled by county commissioners, who, really, at the end of the day, have very little cyber—very little, if any, cybersecurity training. There’s no real-time monitoring of these machines in any case that I’ve—that I’ve been involved in. And, you know, as we look at these small county governments, they simply don’t have the funding to fend off, you know, what ultimately are coordinated nation-state—coordinated nation-state attacks.”

“[U]p at the state level, it gets pretty difficult to start manipulating vote totals. But I said I would go down to the county governments—right?—the individuals who are certifying the individual vote totals. We saw some—before the election, we saw some demonstrations of how to hack voting machines. And people always note that these are air-gapped voting machines. But, of course, the reality is, they’re programmed from, in some cases, PCMCIA cards, these computer cards, that ultimately are programmed on a computer that is very likely, in every case, connected to the internet. And so, again, if you look at starting to work through us, you know, we would target these low-level machines. I said the second thing I’d target would be absentee ballots. I think that—and to do that, you know, I specifically mentioned I’d go after voter rolls.”

All this is very disturbing because what it appears to show is that even in the states where mail-in ballots are mandatory, those tabulations may be no more secure than those from voting machines, especially if the voter rolls have been hacked into and tampered with first. The only way county election officials could verify if all election results are accurate would be to review the voter rolls, compare that data with the actual paper ballots, and then compare that to the election data input into their computerized systems. That takes time and money, money the counties just don’t have. Money denied to them by deficit hawks from both parties at the state and federal levels.

So, the primary and most disturbing issue here is not the fact that yet another highly-classified document was leaked to the press, but that our federal government has possibly been engaging in a cover up to prevent the American people from knowing how easily our election process can be compromised, and that in all likelihood it’s been hacked into and compromised for years. And even more disturbing, it could have been hacked not just by the Russians, but by homegrown hackers employed by one or both of the two major political parties. There’s no proof to that, of course–yet.